Business Lunches: When should you begin work-related conversations and who should pick up the bill?By Gary Cohen
Once you’ve been seated, allow for a few minutes of
pleasantries and rapport-building, but once you’ve placed
your orders, shift into business-mode. Your minds and table will be
clear so notes can be taken or papers shared without distractions
Some people will wait until dessert or coffee. As a result, tension hangs in the air throughout the meal. Who will be the first to broach the subject? Will I have time to get all my points across? Does she understand this to be a work lunch? Why is he hesitant to talk about work? In addition, when your body’s digesting food, blood is routed to your stomach not your brain, so it’s not an ideal time to negotiate.
If you know the conversation is going to be stressful, avoid restaurants entirely. One party will focus on food, people, and décor, while the other will feel pressure to compete against these distractions. The chances of exacerbating the disagreement are higher than the chances of reaching an amicable solution. Hold stressful meetings in a business environment, where they belong.
No matter how productive the negotiations or how good the food, haggling over the bill can ruin a lunch. This is often due to one or more of following convictions:
- The person selling should always pay.
- The person with the highest title should pay.
- The person who made the lunch invitation should pay.
Naturally, these convictions can intersect, leading to
uncomfortable moments with the bill lying on the table. Take this
scenario: You were invited to lunch, but you have a higher title,
and you failed to sell anything. Who should pay?
Not everyone holds the same bill-paying convictions. Since they’re often unstated, confusion and hurt feelings result. It doesn’t help that all of the above convictions are ultimately short-sighted. Does it really matter who’s selling, since both parties benefit from the relationship? If the person with the highest title always pays, won’t the payer (Am I being taken advantage of?) and the person being treated (Does he feel that I can’t afford to pay?) eventually feel trapped? And if the person who makes a lunch invitation feels punished for doing so, what’s to keep everyone from simply eating at their desks?
A successful negotiation is when both parties win. Winning isn’t getting a free lunch. Winning is being generous and inspiring others to do the same, even if it’s not clear that you will be doing more (or even any) business together. My advice: pick up the bill…always and quickly. If someone protests vigorously, don’t arm wrestle them for it. Graciously relent, but be sure to pick up the next tab.
Here’s another technique that I learned from Marcy Syms. If you have to leave early, make arrangements to pay before you even sit down to eat. In doing so, you communicate a message of forethought and planning that the beneficiaries are sure to recollect.